By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD — It doesn’t take long to learn the lay of the land.
Effingham County’s John Ford took over the head football coaching job in January. He heard all about the big rivalry within the county.
And then he heard there’s another rival a county away, Richmond Hill.
“I know it goes way back and there’s a lot of emotion,” said Ford, giving the CliffsNotes’ PG version of the series history.
The Rebels and Richmond Hill will tangle Friday night in Wildcat Stadium and it will be another opportunity to add to an intriguing backstory.
The last two years, Richmond Hill won Region 2-AAAAAA championships with a little help from a couple of ECHS transfers and handily beat the Rebels 41-0 and 45-14 in tension-filled games and equally tense postgame moments.
In 2017 and 2018, ECHS posted upsets, sending the Wildcats on the road in the state playoffs. In 2017, Richmond Hill’s loss to the under-.500 Rebels meant the Wildcats, who started the season 7-0, drew eventual state champion Lee County as a first-round opponent.
“It’s kind of big, but we’re not looking at it like it’s a rivalry game,” ECHS senior wide receiver Khiry Wallace said. “It’s big because it’s another region game and we want to put another ‘W’ in the win column. We’ll try our best.”
This season, the Rebels (3-1, 1-0 Region 2-AAAAAA) have already equalled last season’s win total and are in search of a signature victory after beating up Lakeside, Howard and South Effingham — teams with a combined 4-11 record.
Richmond Hill comes in with a 1-4 mark, 1-1 in the region, but has played a tough schedule that included non-region clashes with Burke County (3-1) and Northside-Warner Robins (4-2).
And the Wildcats have had some tough luck. They suffered three turnovers on a wet field and squandered a fourth-quarter lead while falling to Statesboro 27-21 last Friday.
“Coach (Matt) LeZotte has an outstanding program and certainly they’re a proud program,” Ford said. “They do a great job coaching their kids. They play hard and they play the right way. We have to keep improving to play with the heavyweights in the region.”
The Beaufort (S.C.) Eagles serve as a common denominator for ECHS and Richmond Hill. Beaufort (5-1) defeated the Wildcats 28-8 during the opening week of the season and topped the Rebels 24-3 the following week.
ECHS had a bye week last week after defeating its No. 1 rival, South Effingham, 34-0 on Sept. 24, but Ford said the team didn’t ease up in practice.
“You stick to your processes,” Ford said. “There are region implications (against Richmond Hill) and we want to make sure we play hard and we play mistake-free. They’re an outstanding team and we want to be competitive.”